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Bishops address abuse scandal with U.S. pilgrims at World Youth Day

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- As Pope Francis was arriving in Panama Jan. 23, bishops from the United States wasted no time addressing the sex abuse scandal back home during a popular event aimed at American and other English-speaking World Youth Day pilgrims.

"It's not easy being Christian, it's not easy being Catholic ... especially today when things in the church are difficult," said Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas, addressing the sex abuse scandal in a room of hundreds of U.S. young adults attending the FIAT Festival for U.S. pilgrims at Panama's Figali Convention Center. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Knights of Columbus and FOCUS.

"How often do we hear our friends say to us: I'm done, I'm bowing out. I will have no more of this, " Bishop Burns said. "My friends, I want you to tell your friends that you'd never separate yourself from Jesus because of Judas. You'd never do that!"

Many in the room applauded.

"Yes, you look at the church today," he continued, "and there have been some who have betrayed us, some even in church leadership."

But he told the pilgrims to "stay strong, stayed focused, stay steady."

The message was well received by those in the room, including Kennedy Horter, 16, of Indiana.

"I don't let people come between me and God," said Horter, wrapped in a U.S. flag.

She said she was not going to judge priests and other good people in the church by the actions of men who likely were never priests "spiritually."

Like other pilgrims, she did not seem to be bothered by the open conversation, which was mixed in with accounts by other young people who spoke of overcoming difficulties, of lives of prayer, and challenges in life. But the situation in the U.S. church seemed to weigh on the minds of many, and the bishops stressed that, in this situation and in other moments of difficulty, Christ must be the anchor.

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, also addressed the scandal while speaking to the pilgrims; he spoke to them about choices. He said there's one choice in life, most important above all others.

"There can be only one person who sits at the center of your life -- and mine," he said. "That person is Jesus, and anyone and anything that takes his place is not a choice worth making today. I ask you, don't be afraid to choose Jesus. Don't be afraid to choose light!"

Sister Lucia Richardson of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration said she was glad the bishops had addressed the "elephant in the room" and discussed "this ugly reality," one that she hears concerns about from young Catholics who speak with her.

Bishop Caggiano said he was deeply sorry for the times the church has "failed you, and anyone in the church has failed you. I am deeply sorry," he said.

"I ask you in this time of shadows and darkness to join with me and all others who wish to move forward and allow our church to be healed and transformed and purified," he said.

But members of the church are facing choices, he said.

"It seems to me, in the time in which we live in the church, it is a time of spiritual twilight," he said. "For there are shadows, there are sins in our midst."

The sin and crime and abuse of young people has deeply destroyed many lives and broken trust with the leadership of the church, he said.

Brian Florin, 24, a seminarian at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, told Catholic News Service it was important to be open and to talk about the scandal, even at World Youth Day, because it's a point of pain for those in the church in the U.S.

Bishop Caggiano said this is the time when many are considering choices, and he continually referred to the image of dark and light during the day.

"What do we want? The dawn or the dusk? Do we want the dawn where you and I seek holiness of life lived in ordinary ways and bring the light of Christ to whomever we meet? Or will we sit back and say 'the darkness is here and I surrender to it,'" he said. "What is it that you or I will choose? I can say to you, as my family in Christ, I stand before you, with every ounce of energy and grace God has given me, and say that I will choose the dawn and I ask you, are you ready to choose the dawn?"

Bishop Burns reminded pilgrims that the church had lived with scandal from the beginning, including the betrayal of Jesus, but reminded them of Peter and Jesus.

"We're going to survive this. Our Lord promised 'on this rock I will build my church.' Step up and continue to have the strength," he said to great applause.


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Update: On flight to Panama, pope confirms November trip to Japan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Pilgrims lined the streets of Panama City to welcome Pope Francis to World Youth Day and his first papal visit to Central America.

Pope Francis was greeted by dancers and was accompanied on the tarmac by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and first lady Lorena Castillo Jan. 23. There were no speeches; because of the 13-hour flight from Rome, the official welcoming ceremonies by government officials and World Youth Day participants were scheduled for Jan. 24.

Panama City Archbishop Jose Ulloa Mendieta accompanied the pope through the streets of the capital to the apostolic nunciature, waving to pilgrims from a popemobile built in Panama with the help of young Panamanians.

The highlight of the visit was to be the vigil and closing Mass of World Youth Day, but Pope Francis also was scheduled to celebrate a penitential liturgy Jan. 25 with young inmates at Las Garzas de Pacora Juvenile Detention Center in Pacora. He also will visit Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano (Good Samaritan Home), a center dedicated to helping people with HIV-AIDS.

During the flight from Rome to Panama, Pope Francis was asked by a Japanese journalist if he will be visiting the country.

"I will go to Japan in November. Get ready!" Pope Francis replied.

He also told another journalist aboard the flight that while there are no immediate plans to travel to Iraq, he hopes to visit one day.

"I want to go, I told them that I wanted to go, but they were the ones who told me, 'Not right now, it isn't safe,'" the pope said. "But I do want to go and I am following the situation closely."

The pope, who is visiting Panama Jan. 23-27 for World Youth Day, thanked the journalists for their work in covering the event and led them in a moment of silence and prayer for Alexei Bukalov, a journalist for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, who died in December.

His voice trembling with emotion, Pope Francis remembered Bukalov as "a man of great humanism," whom "I cared for very much."

"He was a man capable of synthesizing reports in the style of Dostoyevsky. I am sure that we will all miss him," the pope said.

As is his custom, Pope Francis greeted each of the 70 journalists on the plane, smiling and exchanging words with each one, accepting letters and posing for photographs.

An Italian journalist told Pope Francis of a recent visit he made to Tijuana, Mexico, where he witnessed the plight of the caravan of migrants making their way to the U.S. border, only to find a wall that "reaches all the way to the ocean."

A wall that goes to the ocean "is madness," the pope said. "It is fear that makes us crazy."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju




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Marginalized take center stage at World Youth Day 2019

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- One thing is clear about World Youth Day 2019: This one is not focused on convening great masses of people, or the most influential or the loudest. Instead of highlighting the problems faced by youth in the world's richest or most populous countries, one of its first events focused on the plight of populations most of the world rarely sees or comes across: the indigenous.

Edigibali Lopez, 24, and Enith Sanchez, 23, members of two different indigenous communities in Panama, spoke from experience about the loss of ancestral lands, the negative impact of climate change on their communities and the discrimination indigenous people face, including at the hands of those who share the same Catholic faith. The women shared the stage at the Atlapa Convention Center Jan. 22 to talk about indigenous youth just before the official start of World Youth Day, taking place Jan. 22-27 in Panama City.

"One of the important aspects of being at World Youth Day is to get others to acknowledge our reality, to learn about our culture and to not listen to the prejudices they have of us as indigenous people, this idea that we don't worship the same God," Sanchez, a member of the Ngabe community native to western Panama, told Catholic News Service.

That was one of the topics young indigenous people spoke about prior to the official start of World Youth Day in an event tailored for populations like theirs, the World Indigenous Youth Gathering, which took place Jan. 17 to 21 in Soloy, Panama in Sanchez' indigenous Ngabe-Bugle community. Organizers said more than 400 indigenous youth from Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Honduras attended, making it the first time such an event has taken place at World Youth Day.

At the meeting, those like Lopez shared how climate change has altered the faith and communal living of their people. With climate change, the islands of the Guna Yala region in northeast Panama, where her community lives, disappear as rising tides result in loss of the ancestral lands of the Guna people, she said.

"Each time the tide rises, and each time it rains, we experience flooding of the island, and we have to (physically) move to other territories," Lopez said. "We suffer because this is our land, the land of our ancestors."

Each move brings loss of habitat and natural resources that the Guna use in their lives of faith, in blessings, in daily and weekly worship, and community rituals, she said. But it's not just a physical problem for their communities.

"As indigenous people, we are focused on the care of our planet, our common home," Lopez said. "Because it affects all people, not just the indigenous, but it affects the entire world."

Communities such as the Guna and the Ngabe may be the ones feeling it first, but ultimately climate change and its negative impact will reach others, and that's a concern for them, too, the women said.

"We're focused on the care of all these resources that surround us to conserve (not just resources) but our people," Lopez said.

As indigenous communities are forced to migrate from their native lands, some end up in cities or towns, where the way they dress, or speak, or practice their faith is not welcome, Lopez said.

"Our hands are tied, and we have to start living in a different way," and that affects the young indigenous people who no longer live listening to their native language or learning about their culture from elders, who normally surround them in a traditional community setting, she said. "The children migrate to the city, the capital, and those cultural teachings from our ancestors are lost."

In non-indigenous communities, the indigenous are looked down on because of the different languages they speak, the different way they dress, Sanchez said, so some of the youth begin changing who they are -- physically and otherwise. The dispersion of their community due to climate change affects the practices that make them unique. When one person lives in one town and the other in a city or another place, the sense of community vital to keeping customs and practices alive is lost, Sanchez said.

"There is no way to come together as a people," she said.

And that affects their lives of faith.

"We, as a people, we have our faith and our way of doing things and sharing, but when we move from one place to another that's far removed, we become disconnected," Lopez said. "We're not putting into practice what is ours. This is what happens when we totally become disconnected from our people, and we're forced to face the problem of how do we make our faith grow as indigenous people?"

Lopez and Sanchez said they appreciate Pope Francis' focus on their populations, on the challenges they face and his encouragement of young indigenous men and women like themselves. The church, too, through priests such as U.S. Vincentian Father Joseph Fitzgerald, who helped organize the gathering for indigenous youth, provide spiritual support that keeps in mind the cultural realities and other conditions they face, they said.

In a video message, Pope Francis sent the gathering Jan. 18, he told them to "take charge of your culture, take charge of your roots. But don't just leave it at that."

Using those roots, he said, "grow and flower."

Panamanian Archbishop Jose Ulloa Mendieta, in his homily at the opening Mass for World Youth Day, acknowledged the marginalization faced by the indigenous and other groups, including young people who come from African ancestry.

"World Youth Day in this region would not be possible without making their situation visible because they represent a significant number of the population of these continents, these youth who live in situations of exclusion and discrimination, that can be found on the margins and in poverty," he said.

The church's acknowledgment, support and accompaniment has been important in how she feels about her culture and her roots, Sanchez said.

"I'm very proud of who I am," she said. "An indigenous woman."


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Swiss Guard replaces metal helmets with 3D-printed plastic headgear

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the Swiss Guard's halberds and uniforms have remained largely unchanged over the centuries, its ceremonial helmets are now a product of 21st-century technology.

The four-pound, hand-forged metal helmet has been replaced with new lightweight headgear. Still crafted in the "morion" style of the Renaissance and topped with a fluffy red or white ostrich feather, it is now made using a 3D printer and tough, weather-resistant ASA thermoplastic -- the same material often used for automotive exterior parts.

The Swiss Guards used the new helmets during a special ceremony Jan. 22 at the Vatican commemorating the 513th anniversary of their foundation. Pope Julius II requested a contingent of Swiss soldiers to protect the pope and his palace in 1505 and the first Swiss soldiers arrived at the gates of Rome Jan. 22, 1506.

The Swiss Guard -- made up of 110 soldiers -- is the smallest and oldest military corps in the world. The men guard all entrances into Vatican City State as well as keep watch over the pope and his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

They also provide security and ceremonial services during liturgical events and visits of heads of state and other dignitaries to the Vatican. A behind-the-scenes look at their ceremonial and honor duties was featured in a new video Jan. 22 as part of an ongoing series about the life and work of the guard. The series can be found on their YouTube channel "Guardia Svizzera Pontificia GSP."


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Update: After initial outrage, details of students' exchange emerge

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kaya Taitano, social media via Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An exchange between Catholic high school students and a Native American tribal leader in Washington Jan. 18 was vilified on social media the following day, but the immediate accusations that the students showed racist behavior have been stepped back as more details of the entire situation have emerged.

Many say the incident still needs to be investigated or discussed and others have pointed out that what happened can still provide a teaching moment not just about racism but also about news coverage and social media's rapid response.

The student most prominent in the footage, junior Nick Sandmann of Covington High School in Kentucky, issued a statement Jan. 20 saying he has "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults" based on reaction across social media. He also said he would cooperate in any investigation church leaders plan to undertake.

The group's chaperones, also criticized on social media, said later the students "were targeted from the get-go."

Covington High School, Covington Latin School and Covington's diocesan offices were closed Jan. 22 due to threats of violence and will reopen when it is safe to do so, according to a diocesan statement reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. A few dozen people took part in a protest vigil at the diocese's headquarters Jan. 21 in reaction to the incident in Washington.

Robert Rowe, principal of Covington Catholic, sent a letter to parents announcing that school would be canceled Jan. 22 "to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff," the newspaper reported.

On Jan. 18, tens of thousands gathered in Washington for the annual March for Life, a march along Constitution Avenue after a rally on the National Mall to the Supreme Court to mark the court's Jan. 22, 1973, decision that legalized abortion.

The march, held a few days before the actual anniversary this year, took place on the same day as the first Indigenous People's March where marchers walked in the other direction on Constitution Avenue to draw attention to injustices against indigenous people.

At the day's end, while students from Covington Catholic High School who had attended the March for Life were waiting for their buses to pick them up near the Lincoln Memorial, they met up with members of the Indigenous People's March, in particular Nathan Phillips, tribal elder for the Omaha Tribe.

In clips from a video that went viral almost immediately, students are shown surrounding the leader, who is chanting and beating a drum. They appear to be mocking him and one student in particular, who is inches away from the drummer and never moves, was accused of flagrant disrespect.

Some students in the crowd were identified by their Covington High School sweatshirts but the attire that drew the most rage was the "Make America Great Again" hats worn by a few in the group. That phrase, which President Donald Trump coined during his successful presidential campaign, has been deemed to be "racist" by his opponents.

The clip caused immediate outrage.

In response to the escalating fury and disgust on social media against these students, Covington High School and the Diocese of Covington issued a joint statement Jan. 19 saying they condemned the students' actions "toward Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general."

"We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the church's teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person," it said, adding that the incident was "being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion."

The school and diocese also said the event "tainted the entire witness of the March for Life" and they apologized to those who attended and "all those who support the pro-life movement."

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini also issued a statement that day saying the encounter did not represent her organization or "the vast majority of the marchers" and that the students' behavior is not welcome at the march and never will be.

The next day the March for Life said it in a tweet had deleted its original tweet about the students "given recent developments.

"It is clear from new footage and additional accounts that there is more to this story than the original video captured. We will refrain from commenting further until the truth is understood," the tweet said.

The day after the initial clip of the exchange went viral, extended footage of how the situation unfolded appeared on social media, and the students issued their own statements about it, like Sandmann, who was directly in front of the Native American drummer.

Longer videos shown online reveal that another group at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial included members of the Hebrew Israelites, who also were attending the Indigenous People's March to share their own beliefs that African-Americans are God's chosen people and the true Hebrew descendants.

Members of this group, as shown in video footage, taunted the students and some responded back. Phillips, the Native American, walked over to the students and the group, as an intervention, singing and beating a song of prayer.

Sandmann, in a statement, said Phillips "locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face."

"I did not speak to him. I did not make any hand gestures or other aggressive moves. To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me. We had already been yelled at by another group of protesters. ... I was worried that a situation was getting out of control."

Sandmann said the group started doing school spirit chants to "counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group" and they had asked for chaperone permission to do so.

He said he stayed motionless to help diffuse the situation and also prayed silently that it would not get out of hand.

"During the period of the drumming, a member of the protester's entourage began yelling at a fellow student that we 'stole our land' and that we should 'go back to Europe.' I heard one of my fellow students begin to respond. I motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protester," an action that can be seen on the video where he motions to the student to stop and points and nods to the tribal leader.

The student said he didn't understand "why either of the two groups of protesters were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting" and that his group was just there to meet a bus, "not become central players in a media spectacle."

"I was not intentionally making faces at the protester. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation. I am a faithful Christian and practicing Catholic, and I always try to live up to the ideals my faith teaches me -- to remain respectful of others, and to take no action that would lead to conflict or violence," he added.

The student said he has been called "every name in the book, including a racist" and has received death threats and hateful insults.

"I am mortified that so many people have come to believe something that did not happen -- that students from my school were chanting or acting in a racist fashion toward African-Americans or Native Americans. I did not do that, do not have hateful feelings in my heart, and did not witness any of my classmates doing that," he said. His statement was posted on the CNN website,

A local CBS-affiliate, WKRC in Cincinnati, also received statements from students, some who asked to remain anonymous, also saying they were unfairly portrayed in media coverage of this incident.

Chaperones, also criticized on social media, spoke to the TV station reiterating that the students had been taunted. "They were targeted from the get-go. Immediately, there were people running around filming and this isn't going to be a truthful depiction of what happened," one chaperone said.

In a statement released Jan. 22, Phillips said he was disappointed that Sandmann "didn't accept any responsibility." The tribal leader said he is willing to meet with the Covington Catholic High School students to discuss cultural appropriation, racism, and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures.

Jesuit Father Jim Martin, an author and editor of America magazine, who was critical of the students' behavior on Twitter Jan. 19, said in a tweet the following day that he would be "happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were somehow acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in any disrepute."

He also tweeted: "We may never know exactly what happened and the various 'sides' may continue to disagree and condemn one another. But I hope the truth emerges."

He said the situation can provide a teachable moment with "important lessons about racism and marginalization, about dialogue and encounter, and about truth and reconciliation, during this coming week, which is, believe it or not, Catholic Schools Week."

Eileen Marx, a religion teacher at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, who also is the faculty moderator of the school's diversity club, told Catholic News Service Jan. 21 that she certainly planned to discuss this incident with her classes this week in light of Catholic social teaching which "so clearly states that we are meant to live in relationship with one another, not as enemies. We are all part of the human family."

She also acknowledged that there is more to discuss now as more details of what happened after the march are emerging.

As this story continues to be sorted out, she said, she also will bring up the role of social media with her students and its power to "build up and to knock down individuals."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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Pope says he's pained by deaths in Colombia, the Mediterranean

IMAGE: CNS photo/Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis led the recitation of the Angelus prayer Jan. 20, he told the crowd in St. Peter's Square that he had "two pains in my heart: Colombia and the Mediterranean."

"I want to assure the Colombian people of my closeness after the serious terrorist attack" Jan. 17 outside the national police academy in Bogota.

Police said the suicide car-bomb attack left at least 20 people dead and more than 60 injured. The National Liberation Army (ELN) later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for the government violating a cease-fire agreement by attacking rebel camps.

"I pray for the victims and for their families," Pope Francis said, "and I continue to pray for the journey of peace in Colombia."

Pope Francis also led the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square in praying the Hail Mary for migrants feared drowned in the Mediterranean and for "those responsible for what happened."

Some 170 migrants were believed to have drowned in the sea in two separate shipwrecks in mid-January. "They were seeking a future" and "perhaps were victims of human trafficking," Pope Francis said.

The U.N. Refugee Agency said Jan. 19 it had been unable to verify the exact death toll, but a nongovernmental humanitarian organization reported 53 people died at sea between Spain and Morocco. "One survivor is understood to have been rescued by a passing fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea and is receiving medical treatment in Morocco. Moroccan and Spanish rescue vessels have been searching for the boat and survivors for several days to no avail."

In addition, the agency said, the Italian navy reported "an additional shipwreck on the central Mediterranean." Three survivors were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa for treatment and they "reported that 117 people, who are currently dead or missing, were on board with them when they departed from Libya."

As many European governments close their ports to migrants attempting the crossing by sea and to the humanitarian organizations that rescue them, Filippo Grandi, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said, "We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe's doorstep. No effort should be spared, or prevented, from saving lives in distress at sea."

The U.N. statement said it is "concerned that actions by states are increasingly deterring NGOs from conducting search and rescue operations and is calling for these to be lifted immediately."

However, the statement said, the United Nations also wants a greater focus on discouraging and preventing refugees and migrants "from taking these desperate journeys in the first place. More safe and legal pathways to access asylum in Europe are needed for those fleeing war and persecution so that no one feels they have no other choice than to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers."


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Different nations, but one faith unites Panama's World Youth Day pilgrims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

PANAMA CITY (CNS) -- Jorge Soto wore a wrestling mask typical of Lucha Libre fighters in Mexico and every few steps he took, others would sidle up to have a picture taken with him. The mask was fun to wear, and it was something associated with his native country, which he was proud to represent at 2019 World Youth Day in Panama, he said.

Other pilgrims wore the flags of their respective countries like a cape on their backs: Australia, El Salvador, Guatemala. Though World Youth Day had not officially started, it seemed as if it unofficially began Jan. 21 on the observation deck overlooking the locks of the Panama Canal, where the young -- and the young-at-heart -- formed a conga line as some beat the drums and others chanted or cheered to honor the Catholic Church, Pope Francis or Mary.

It's a time when "you feel good about everything," said Soto, attending his second World Youth Day, an experience he said helps him meet an international cast of thousands of young Catholics and find meaning in life and in his faith.

As his native country struggles with secularism, he said, "it's up to us to come up with solutions and help others not slip away from their lives of faith." Part of what World Youth Day provides, he said, is a kinship and strength in spiritual beliefs, even if people come from different parts of the world.

For 16-year-old Charlie Martin of Australia, the event presents the opportunity to come in contact with a physical reality of a Catholic Church that was alive in the Americas centuries before his native country became an independent nation in 1901, one told by the many historic buildings where Catholics in the region worship and where they have built lives of faith. But he also experienced different expressions of that faith than he's used to.

"It's been an amazing, you feel like a celebrity," he said, explaining the warm greetings expressed by Panamanians when they see the pilgrims walking about. "We walk into shopping centers and people are clapping for us."

And indeed, locals wave at buses carrying pilgrims and local businesses have placed posters on storefronts welcoming them and Pope Francis to Panama.

"It's been amazing," said 15-year-old Aubrey Tedd, also traveling with Martin. "Everyone comes together with great energy."

Though it was clear that some did not speak the same language, they still stopped to shake hands, to sing, to have photos taken together, and ultimately to spontaneously dance near the Panama Canal with people they had never met but with whom they shared some of their deepest set of beliefs.

Though most were just passing through to visit the canal, it became clear, by the flags, by the wearing of pins featuring saints and crucifixes around their necks, that most of those gathered at the site of the historic waterway had arrived for more than just tourism. So, even though there was no official plan, some, perhaps inspired by the spirit, just began shouting.

"Que viva la virgen!" some of the Mexican pilgrims began shouting, cheering on the Virgin Mary. "Que viva el papa!" they shouted, cheering on the pope. Lined against the observatory deck, they also began shouting into the warm winds near the canal "Esta es la juventud del papa!" or "This is the pope's youth."

Their joy made seminarian Hien Vu, 30, of Xuan Loc, Vietnam, smile.

"I want to experience this enthusiasm," he said. "And see the hope of the Catholic Church."

Even those who weren't Catholic, such as Jose Gonzalez, a Protestant who was visiting the canal with his Catholic wife, Silvia Lopez, from Huehuetango, Guatemala, were enjoying the moment. Gonzalez said there was much to learn from the experience of faith World Youth Day brings. In fact, it was Gonzalez who encouraged Lopez to attend World Youth Day with him; they just happened to be visiting the canal when the large group of pilgrims arrived.

"We'd heard good things about (World Youth Day)," from one of his brothers, said Gonzalez, adding that he was looking for something he and his wife could benefit from spiritually. People with different beliefs need not be at odds with one another, he said, or be afraid to learn from what the other might be able to teach because the goal is the same: unity and the need to make the world better.

Shortly after, the conga line began. The young pilgrims started it and then some of the chaperones followed.

"It's a lot of fun to be with them," Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald F. Hanchon told Catholic News Service.

Having spent time studying in Mexico, he is familiar with the joyful expressions of faith, particularly from the Mexican youth, he said. Hosting the event in a Latin American country can only benefit Catholics from other parts of the world, who may experience something different than what they're used to, he said.

"It's a part of the world that's worth visiting," he said.


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Rev. King called 'artisan of peace' and 'true witness to power of Gospel'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy LBJ Library


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Societies today need "artisans of peace," like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rev. King "was a messenger and true witness to the power of the Gospel lived in action through public life," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in a statement issued for the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 21, the federal holiday marking his birthday.

The civil rights leader was born Jan. 15, 1929, and was fatally shot April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

"This year, as we again mark the anniversary of his life, and reflect upon the 51st anniversary of his death, we are thankful for the path forged by Dr. King and the countless others who worked tirelessly and suffered greatly in the fight for racial equality and justice," the cardinal said.

He added that the United States, "as a nation and as a society," faces "great challenges as well as tremendous opportunities ahead."

Cardinal DiNardo made reference to Pope Francis' annual message for the World Day of Peace Jan. 1. The pope said that in today's climate of mistrust, rejection and nationalism, the world urgently needs peacemakers and politicians who protect and lovingly serve others.

The cardinal also reminded U.S. Catholics that the body of bishops at their November general assembly approved a pastoral letter against racism, "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love." The full text can be found at

"The letter's goal is to again name and call attention to a great affliction and evil that persists in this nation, and to offer a hope-filled Christian response to this perennial sickness," Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement, released Jan. 18. "Racism is a national wound from which we continually struggle to heal. As we wrote in the pastoral letter, 'Racism can only end if we contend with the policies and institutional barriers that perpetuate and preserve the inequality -- economic and social -- that we still see all around us."

In recalling how Rev. King "contended with policies and institutional barriers of his time, many which persist today," Cardinal DiNardo said, "we renew our pledge to fight for the end of racism in the church and in the United States.

"We pledge our commitment to build a culture of life, where all people are valued for their intrinsic dignity as daughters and sons of God. We encourage Catholics and all people of goodwill to study the pastoral letter, and to study and reflect upon Dr. King's witness against the destructive effects of racism, poverty and continuous war."

The U.S. bishops "call on everyone to embrace our ongoing need for healing in all areas of our lives where we are wounded, but particularly where our hearts are not truly open to the idea and the truth that we are all made in the image and likeness of God," Cardinal DiNardo wrote.

In conclusion, he quoted Rev. King: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

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Marchers urged to stand strong, fight for life with 'compassion, hope'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Those who stand up for the dignity of life in all its stages and want to see this respect for all life enshrined once again in U.S. law have a friend in the Pence family and the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence told the March for Life crowd on the National Mall Jan. 18.

Pence and second lady Karen Pence were a surprise addition to the roster of speakers at the rally, and after his remarks, the vice president introduced a videotaped message by President Donald Trump, which also was unexpected.

"We're the Pences and we're pro-life," the vice president said to the cheering crowd.

"We gather here because we stand for life and believe as our Founding Fathers did that life born and unborn is endowed with certain unalienable rights, and the first of those is life," Pence said.

In his message, Trump said the pro-life movement is "founded on love and grounded in the nobility and dignity of every human life. I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence: the right to life."

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, welcomed the crowd and thanked them for coming once again to march to end abortion, what she called "the greatest human rights abuse of our time."

She asked the crowd if they will keep marching to fight abortion, to march for the "poorest of the poor" and those who cannot march for themselves until "we no longer need to march" and abortion "is unthinkable." She received a resounding "yes" to each question.

Looking out from the speakers' platform, she declared the crowd to be bigger than she has ever seen in her seven years as head of March for Life.

No official crowd counts are available for such events, but ahead of this year's rally and march, organizers expected more than 100,000 to participate.

"We must keep marching for life every day of the year," Mancini said, and she asked each marcher to share his or her pro-life story on social media because even of those stories about "why we march" can change others' minds about abortion.

Before she gave her remarks, Mancini introduced Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities. He offered the opening prayer for the march and also urged the crowd to go "change the world!"

In a statement issued later in the day to mark the upcoming Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Archbishop Naumann called on the faithful "to pray for an end to the human rights abuse of abortion, and for a culture of life, where through God's grace all will come to know they are made in his divine image."

The theme for this year's March for Life was "Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science," focusing on how scientific advancements reveal "the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception."

In his remarks, Pence urged the pro-lifers to stand up for God's creation, spread their message with compassion and hope, and not let their detractors dissuade them.

In 1973 with its Roe decision, he said, the Supreme Court turned "its back on life" but the pro-life movement was born, "motivated by love and truth," and has been "winning hearts and minds ever since," he added.

"We know in our heart of hearts, life is winning in America once again," he said, pointing out the many pregnancy centers helping women across the nation, adoptive families "who open their hearts and homes," and pro-life leaders who have stepped up to serve in the government.

Other speakers included Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; three members of Congress -- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois and Chris Smith, R-New Jersey; a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Katrina Jackson; Alveda King, Priests for Life's director of civil rights for the unborn; and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus.

Shapiro said the Democratic Party has "embraced abortion as a sacrament," but he also was critical of Republicans in Congress for not stepping up to halt federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

He said the pro-life movement has been deemed to be "out of line with society," noting that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just said that recently. The media "will ignore us," Shapiro continued, and will pay more attention to "the five who show up tomorrow," referring to the Women's March scheduled for Jan. 19 in Washington.

But it's OK to be "out of line," Shapiro said, because "righteousness doesn't have to be popular, just righteous."

Smith told the crowd that the new Democratic majority in the House "has made it clear that they want to eviscerate all pro-life protections including the Hyde taxpayer abortion funding ban which alone has saved over 2 million people from death by abortion."

After the rally, the massive crowd began heading up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court. Marchers carried signs big and small -- and some had huge banners proclaiming respect for life.

It was a multicolored sea of people, old and young, with some sporting bright blue knit hats, others wearing neon yellow hooded sweatshirts. Mixed in were Franciscans and Dominicans and other men and women religious in their habits.

Some predicted the partial government shutdown would alter the plans for the March for Life, or at least keep crowds from coming. Some worried bad weather predicted for parts of the Midwest and the Washington region would impede travelers heading East and reduce the numbers.

But there was no weather event to speak of, and the sun even shined for a time midday. The worst obstacle was a muddy Mall and some mounds of icy snow here and there -- the result of a snowstorm early in the week, and as Mancini told the crowd, pro-lifers come whether it is raining, sleeting or blizzarding.

As the March for Life rally was about to get underway, Caitlyn Dixson of Des Moines, Iowa, stood not too far from the main stage. It was her first March for Life.

She told Catholic News Service how five years ago she came close to getting an abortion but changed her mind while she was at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Today her baby, Caden, is 4 years old and Dixson recently became executive director of Iowa Right to Life, so, she noted, it was time for her to make the march.

"Now I spend every day of my life to help young girls like me to make it possible for them to save their babies like I did mine," she said.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Youth at Mass for Life thanked for offering sign of hope for the future

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Mark Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- They came from near and far, and even from Down Under, united in prayer and in standing together for life at the Archdiocese of Washington's annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life, held Jan. 18 at the Capital One Arena in Washington.

The estimated crowd of 18,000 came from the Washington area and from across the country and were joined by young adults from Sydney on their way to World Youth Day in Panama.

The main celebrant at the Mass, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, entered and left the arena smiling and waving a blessing to the spirited crowd of teens and young adults, many of whom wore colorful, matching hats or sweatshirts along with their school uniforms.

They had come, the archbishop said, for a day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children and to stand up and speak out for all those who are vulnerable in society, and also "to give thanks to God for the gift of life."

"Dear young people, thank you for the witness of your Catholic faith, both now in holy Mass, on the streets of Washington, and more importantly, when you return home to your families and neighborhoods," he said.

Archbishop Pierre read a message from Pope Francis, who said he was united in prayer with the thousands of young people who had come to Washington to join the March for Life. The pontiff in his message said the challenging task for each generation is "to uphold the inviolable dignity of human life." The pope's message said respect for the sacredness of every life is essential in building a just society, where every child, and every person, is welcomed as a brother and sister.

Fifteen other bishops concelebrated the Mass including the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher who was accompanying the Australian pilgrims. About 175 priests also concelebrated the Mass, assisted by about 30 permanent deacons.

The arena crowd also included an estimated 500 seminarians and 100 women religious.

Opening his homily at the Mass, Father Robert Boxie III, the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Maryland, said, "To see this arena filled with the Body of Christ, I'm looking out and seeing hope for the future of our church, and hope for the future of our country. It's an awesome and beautiful sight!"

Noting that the first reading at the Mass included the passage from Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you," the priest added, "The womb is the first place God encounters us. God encounters us in the womb and seeks to encounter us in each moment of our lives."

He said abortion is a symptom of a sickness in society and it shows "our failure to encounter one another and see the image of God and the face of Jesus Christ in our brothers and sisters. Simply put, it's our failure to love."

Echoing concerns raised by Pope Francis, the priest called on young people to counteract society's culture of indifference with a culture of encounter.

"Truly building a culture of life depends on how we encounter each other," he said, encouraging people not only to march for life, but to "stand up for every human life inside and outside the womb," including people in all stages of life, and also the poor, the neglected, immigrants and refugees. "All of these lives," he added, "are sacred and precious in the eyes of God."

Archbishop Fisher then greeted the young people at the arena with a friendly, "G'day!" and jokingly added that is the Australian way of saying, "The Lord be with you."

He said it was a great joy for him to accompany the young Aussies on the March for Life.

The Australian prelate said he hoped some of the young people in the arena would become priests or women religious or become "spouses and parents of the next generation of Christians' Whatever God's plan for you, know you are precious in his eyes," from the moment of conception until death, he said.

Sister Maria Juan, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, served as a master of ceremony for the youth rally, and at the end of Mass, she noted the bishops and the large numbers of priests, women religious and seminarians there, and the crowd gave them sustained applause. Some of the young people stood to indicate that they were discerning a vocation, and they too were applauded.

The sister noted that "in the church today, we are experiencing a lot of trials," but she added through the 2,000-year history of the church, "at those exact moments, God also raises up great saints to be light in the darkness."

She added, "Always remember it is Jesus Christ calling you to this, the church loves you and the world needs you."

The Mass's program encouraged young people to continue their advocacy for life after the march, by doing things like volunteering at a pregnancy center, starting or joining a pro-life club, educating peers on chastity and the church's teaching on life, being open and loving to teens in crisis, and praying for mothers, fathers and unborn children.

The Mass ended on a joyful note, as the congregation sang the song, "Your Grace is Enough," and some of the bishops and priests as they processed out, waved to young people in the different sections of the arena.

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington.


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